Please note: This post was originally made on May 27, 2013 on willrunformiles.com, but has since been reposted after the move of this blog to first2board.com. In the time since the original post was made, the Delta Airlines social media team has contacted me in effort to rectify the situation, and the author thanks them for reaching out.
The issue of “Passengers of Size” is a sensitive topic. Most of the writing concerns whether an airline has a right to make a passenger purchase two seats, or has a right to charge such a passenger more based on his/her weight. It is not very often that the topic is examined from the perspective of the passenger seated next to a “passenger of size.”
Last week, I was on a flight on Delta Airlines. The plane was a Boeing 757, and although I was not upgraded, my seat was in the extra legroom area, Economy Comfort. I always book aisle seats, so I was surprised to have a window seat – 20 F – to be exact. I think I originally booked an aisle seat, but the aircraft and assigned seating was changed in the months prior to the flight, and I stupidly hadn’t thought to look back at my seat assignment.
Anyway, seated in the middle seat was a very large man. While I’m sympathetic to his plight and sure the arrangement was uncomfortable for him, I was anything but comfortable. I felt confined and cramped in what seemed like only half my seat.
I spoke to a flight attendant. I was told that, ordinarily, they might try to assign new seats, but the flight was fully booked, so there was nothing they could do. This is Delta’s policy, as stated on its website:
Customers Requiring Extra Seat Space
Delta does not require passengers who need a seatbelt extender or are unable to lower the armrest to purchase additional seats. However, for the safety and comfort of our other passengers, you may be asked to move to another location that provides additional space. In the event of a full flight you will be asked to take a later flight with available seating. To avoid this situation, we recommend that you purchase an additional seat. For assistance please call Delta Reservations at 1-800-221-1212 and they will be glad to assist.
I went on Twitter and tweeted about the problem. Surprisingly, neither @Delta nor @DeltaAssist responded to my tweets – they are generally most responsive.
@Airfarewatchdog, responded to my tweet, saying ” If you can’t lower the armrest between you, (s)he should have bought a second seat.” While the armrest between this passenger and myself was able to go down, there certainly was a lot of the gentleman both above and below the armrest that flowed onto my area. I crouched close to the window, and occasionally had to move his arm over to keep a little of my cramped space.
Some Twitter folks wanted me to take photos of the man, and suggested I go so far as to reverse the camera lens and pretend I’m taking a photo of the scene in front of me, while really taking his photo. They said, as a blogger, that’s my right. (query: is this like Poetic License… Blogger’s License?) But, I did not want to embarrass him. His size was not his fault. He was clean, and I honestly believe that he tried to respect my space. I did take a general photo, without a face or name. Still it does not feel right to post it. I don’t know what Blogger’s License means, but I know that, whatever I am doing, I have to be true to myself – trust my gut, so to speak, no pun intended. You know what a large person looks like. Please, just imagine him that way.
Grant Martin, the editor in chief of Gadling tweeted “What do you do if a large person is sitting next to you on the bus? Ask for your bus fare back?” I have a lot of respect for Grant Martin and admire his work, but I found his response flippant. I tweeted back to him, asking if he was referring to a public bus or a charter bus. Indeed, the issues are different. Comparing carriage on a plane to a general seat on a public bus is comparing apples and oranges.
Sharing your seat with a “passenger of size”
Scenario: You’re in the dreaded middle seat and a clinically obese passenger sits down next to you, raises the armrest, and spills over into a portion of your seat, squishing into the window seat passenger.
Recourse: While many airlines have language in their contracts of carriage that they will refuse to transport passengers who cannot fit into a single seat, or require them to buy two seats, such rules are rarely enforced. You can request to be reseated (perhaps in business or first class if there are no seats available in economy class), or to be put on the next flight out, but that’s about it. Some U.S. airlines have rules about this in their contracts, but they’re rarely enforced, and in Canada passengers of size are not required to buy two seats under disability clauses, so you’re out of luck.
So, that’s basically it. Viewed by some as an annoying weight issue, by others as a disability. Most just tiptoe around the topic. Recently, I saw a proposal that airlines should create a certain amount of “large seats” per plane in order to accommodate such passengers. I don’t know the answer.
I did phone Delta’s Customer Service line after the flight was completed. I relayed my information about the circumstances of my flight to the agent. She was most kind and offered me 7,500 miles as compensation. I accepted and said thank you.
Coincidentally, Just Another Points Traveler has recently written on this topic too.
Do you have an opinion on this issue?